Sugar factories delayed as soggy fields hamper the beet harvest

Norfolk NFU chairman Thomas Love in a field of sugar beet. Picture: Mark Bullimore

Norfolk farmer Thomas Love in a field of sugar beet at Walcott

Sugar factories have slowed their processing operations after recent rain and snowfalls left thousands of tonnes of sugar beet laying unharvested in waterlogged Norfolk fields.

With some farmers worried they may have to wait weeks before their land dries out enough to lift the crop, British Sugar has delayed the scheduled closure date of its plant at Cantley until the end of March to allow more time for the remaining beet to be delivered. 

Thomas Love, who farms on the Norfolk coast at Walcott, said he still has 150 acres of sugar beet that he is currently unable to gather.

"They [the sugar beet fields] have been frozen, and they are now absorbing the equivalent of an inch of water from the snow.

"Ourselves and our near neighbours have still got nearly half our beet to lift.

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"We normally leave it late to harvest because we don't usually suffer too much from frost, so we are in a bit of a muddle this year because it has been so wet."

In response to the poor conditions, British Sugar has delayed the scheduled completion dates at Cantley from March 12 until the end of March, while its Bury St Edmunds factory is due to close at the end of February "subject to sufficient beet being delivered to each site".

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A British Sugar statement says: "We recognise that poor weather is currently causing crop harvesting and loading difficulties, and as such we have now slowed beet throughput at our factories to allow more time for the crop to be delivered.   

"Should this not be possible before their contracted factory finishes its campaign for this season, growers will be able to deliver to their next closest factory, at British Sugar’s cost.

"We will continue to review the dates, taking into consideration field conditions over the coming weeks.

"It is our hope that we can get all the beet into the factories and will do our best to support this where possible."

The west Norfolk plant at Wissington has already completed its campaign on February 15, while British Sugar's fourth factory at Newark in Nottinghamshire is now scheduled to close in mid-March.

Sugar beet is unloaded at the British Sugar factory in Cantley. Picture: James Bass

Sugar beet being unloaded at the British Sugar factory in Cantley - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

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